Making the Most of Reviews & Ratings

Thumbs up.As businesses, of course we want all the reviews we can get…as long as they are good. All joking aside, we know that isn’t realistic. You simply can’t please all the people all of the time; and let’s be honest, some people, you can’t even please some of the time. But this isn’t new. What is new is the visibility of opinions that the web has brought. Personally, we think this is a good thing.

The reality is, before the web, there were customers who were dissatisfied and happy to share that dissatisfaction with whoever would listen. Oh, but they didn’t reach as broad an audience you say. While this may be true, so is the flip-side of that coin. The web has also provided a venue for raving fans, and the moderately happy, to share their opinions as well, and likewise, their reach has been broadened as much as the dissenter’s. The main difference is that you may not have had visibility into either of these sets of opinions yourself. I’m pretty sure many a business has failed that lived solely off the feedback of friends and family.

Today, online reviews can provide a valuable, timely, and relatively unbiased feedback loop that can help drive continued improvement and marketing for your business. Or they can be a royal pain in the rear. Ultimately though, the choice is yours. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that online reviews aren’t going away. So let me share some thoughts on how you can shift these from royal pain to powerful tool.

First off, let me say that I think negative reviews can be just as important to your business as failure is to driving success. Realistically, it is probably the fear of negative reviews that scares most business owners. This is understandable. Before we get to those though, here’s some tips on getting the most value out of the good reviews, which you may often glance over to quickly.

The Good

Good reviews are great and of course, the goal. The more good reviews the better. Good reviews, theoretically, capture what we are doing right. Because of this, you might also just be skimming past these. What I encourage you to do here though is to make note of the things that continue to be called out in your reviews.

What does this tell us and how do we use it?

  • Highlights not just what you are doing well, but more importantly, what is important to your customers.
  • Does this match up with your own assessments?
  • Are there things you do really well that never seem to be mentioned? If so, does this mean that you aren’t doing as well in this area as you thought, or perhaps it isn’t nearly as important to your customers as you think?
  • Are you considering making changes that are related to one of these things that your customers are raving about? If so, perhaps you should talk to some of them before making those changes, even if you think the changes will make it even better.
  • As you look over the reviews, taking into account the span of time, do you notice things being mentioned more or, and more importantly, less often? Be especially aware of the “less” as this may be signaling growing issues or a decline in quality or performance in that area.

The Bad

Bad reviews, while not overly desirable, can be even more helpful to your business than good ones. Of course, if you have far more bad reviews than good, that may signal a critical issue that needs immediate attention. But a “handful” of bad or neutral reviews mixed with a bunch of glowing positive reviews can be very useful.

  • They present a more genuine profile. We all know that no business is perfect all of the time. So a perfect set of reviews is just as likely to raise a “too good to be true” feeling as anything else.
  • If you are “open” to them, they can also help identify areas that need improvement. Especially if the same things keep showing up in people’s reviews. Before you write them off as “trivial” or “wrong,” take a long hard look at what is being said, try to look at as if you were looking at some other business, and see if you feel the same way or at least can see how others might have come to that feeling.
  • Try to improve or fix the issue. Sometimes the fix might be indirect. If a specific entree requires 30 minutes for cooking, it is what it is and you can’t magically cook it in 15. However, perhaps you need to include a note in your menu that it requires that amount of time, make sure your waitstaff knows to inform the customer of this when they order, perhaps you should provide soup or salad with that meal, or you could include a special appetizer pairing with that meal as a way to address hunger or simply breakup the time from order to plating. It may not always be an actual “fix” that is required.
  • And just like the positive reviews, keep an eye on these over time as they may serve as an early warning signal when a change has been for the worse or when service is starting to decline.

The Ugly

Ugly reviews of course are the ones you are probably most concerned about. These are the ones that are spitting mad, flaming out of control, and often, downright attacking. To be fair, these are the ones that can be the most damaging to a business. The danger here though often comes in a different way than you might think. So how should you handle ugly reviews?

  • Don’t get personal. Regardless of what reviewers say or whether they “crossed the line” first, you must remain professional and avoid anything that is or may be seen as a personal attack. This will not only add fuel to the fire, but can degrade your standing even with your raving fans.
  • Even if you avoid getting personal, don’t attack in any way. Again, you will gain nothing here.
  • Understand, it’s not about defending. This is perhaps the hardest. You may have gotten past the first two tips without much effort, but this one probably won’t be as easy. Of course, it’s human nature to defend when we are being attacked.
  • So let’s start by shifting our mindset. This isn’t a battle, it’s a conversation. Yes, the other person or people may be treating it like a battle, so first we need to ease the situation. This isn’t going to happen if you start by defending. Remember, it really isn’t about whether they are right or wrong, but their perception of the situation or an issue. At this point, it might be better to acknowledge and empathize with them over the issue and ask to continue the conversation offline so that you can better understand the situation.
  • Ultimately, if there was an issue on your end, then don’t be afraid to acknowledge and apologize for it. And even if you don’t entirely agree on their point, remember that what you may be addressing is their perception of the issue. With that in mind, it may be worth offering to “make it right” in some way that is equivalent or greater to the perceived issue. But avoid a token offer…if you run “get a free appetizer” coupons every other week, then offering a “free appetizer” with their next meal is probably only going to stir up the fires again.

You might be concerned that people will leave bad reviews simply to “get freebies.” While I can’t say that won’t ever happen, I truly believe that most people are genuine in their reviews. In those extreme conditions, you should be getting as much detail from them as you can…what was the date, time, the names or descriptions of the people they interacted with, what did they order or the services they received, etc. From that, you should hopefully also be able to determine the degree of validity to their claim.

In the end though, if most of the claims are valid and you acknowledge them, are able to address them specifically by making the situation right with that customer or customers as well as potentially fixing the cause of the issue to avoid future instances, that will feed back into the reviews of your business, either from those previous customers or future customers who read the previous reviews. Also, by no means is McHenry Life a one-way street. Not only are you, as a business owner, allowed to engage reviewers or able to leave comments about improvements or changes you’ve taken to address issues or improve your business, we encourage you to do so.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you address any issues brought up in reviews, how to interact with reviewers, and perhaps changed your perception of reviews into seeing them as a powerful tool to help improve your business.